Everything you need to know about how long it takes to cook a 12-pound turkey in the oven is all right here. You do not need to be a chef to prep, cook, & serve a juicy on the inside & crispy skin turkey. Ensure it is moist, tender, & ready on time with this easy oven-roasted turkey recipe.
All the tips and tricks on how best to cook a 12-pound turkey in the oven. Keep it moist, juicy, and flavorful at 325° or 350°. No guesswork. You just have to follow this simple recipe & have a great meat thermometer on-hand. The best holiday or Thanksgiving turkey is just a few hours away.
This recipe for a small-sized seasoned turkey with lots of flavors couldn't be easier. With a little prep, the oven does all the work. In a few hours, the roasting is done and yummy white & dark meat turkey is ready to enjoy.
You may want to smoke, deep-fry, or BBQ your turkey and that is great, but the cooking temperature and times will NOT be the same as what I outline below. If you are roasting a turkey and it weighs 12 pounds (stuffing not included in the weight), feel confident this recipe is what you need.
- Defrost Turkey
- How to Brine a Turkey
- How to Prep a Turkey for Roasting
- Cooking Time & Temperature for 12-Pound Turkey
- Best Instant-Read Thermometer
- 12-Pound Unstuffed Turkey
- 12-Pound Turkey with Stuffing
- 12-Pound Turkey in a Roasting Bag
- 12-Pound Turkey Feeds How Many People?
- What to Serve with Turkey
- Storing Leftover Turkey
- Recipes for Leftover Turkey Slices
- TURKEY FAQS
- More Turkey Recipes by Weight
- How Long to Cook a 12-Pound Turkey
Be sure your 12-pound turkey is defrosted by the morning of the day you want to cook it. For instance, if you want to roast it on Thanksgiving, I suggest getting it into the refrigerator the Friday before. This is because I love to start the salt dry brine on Sunday and the turkey should not be solid frozen.
When thawing in a refrigerator, it takes 2-3 days to have a fully defrosted turkey that weighs 12 pounds. If you want to brine it, add 3 more days to your calendar. This will help you have a turkey that is ready when it comes to cooking time.
How to Brine a Turkey
I always suggest you start defrosting early so you can brine your holiday bird. Brining the turkey will help keep it moist, juicy, & succulent. For a turkey everyone will be wanting seconds of, make sure you try my easy process for the best dry brine recipe.
If you are making your turkey for Thanksgiving day, which in America falls on a Thursday every year, you will need to start the dry brine on Sunday. Make sure your turkey has already started to defrost. It does not need to be completely defrosted but around ½-way through is fine. The skin and outer meat layers will be ready to absorb the salt and that is perfect.
How to Prep a Turkey for Roasting
Once your turkey is defrosted, next up you want to prep it for the oven. Get out your large roasting pan and rack. If you are wondering how big a roasting pan you need for a turkey that is 12 pounds or larger, it is a pretty big one. Ideally use a 14-inch pan and a rack that fits in it.
The last step before roasting a turkey is to season it. Use whatever recipe you like, but below I have outlined how I dress mine up. Simply remove the parts in the cavity of the bird, and add some aromatics like citrus, garlic, & herbs. Then rub on some softened butter and a seasoning blend.
Cooking Time & Temperature for 12-Pound Turkey
You can cook a turkey at either 325Â° or 350Â° in the oven. Below is the information on how long to cook a turkey depending on the temperature and timing you want to use. Whether your turkey is unstuffed or full of stuffing, here are how many hours it will take to roast in the oven so it is ready on time for your Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, or other holiday meal.
I recommend cooking your turkey both covered and uncovered. I like to loosely tent foil over the turkey for the first half of the cooking process. Once it is halfway done, I remove the foil and let the skin begin browning so it is crispy and amazing.
Best Instant-Read Thermometer
Always use a meat thermometer to check internal temperatures when cooking a turkey. I like to use an instant-read thermometer. I prefer this over leaving one in the turkey the entire time it cooks.
An instant-read thermometer is the best way to check that your turkey is ready. With an instant-read thermometer, you can check several places on your turkey in a few seconds. It is best to check your turkey at the breast, thigh, & stuffing if your bird is stuffed. These recommendations for checking doneness are even shared by Butterball.
ALL TIMES SHARED HERE ARE ESTIMATES - EVERY TURKEY, OVEN TEMPERATURE, ROASTING PAN, ELEVATION, AND MORE CAN ALTER THE COOKING TIMES.
12-Pound Unstuffed Turkey
Once your 12-pound turkey is in the pan and ready to go into the oven, make sure you set a timer to be sure you check it on time. If you are cooking the turkey at 325°, it will take 3-3 ½ hours to cook. At 350°, it will take 2.5-3 hours. Place your turkey covered in foil in the oven and set a timer for 90 minutes.
Once the halfway point is done, remove the foil so the turkey can cook uncovered for the final cooking time. I suggest using an instant-read thermometer and starting checking the thickest part of the thigh around the 2-hour mark. You want the turkey to reach an internal temperature of 175°.
Remember that at 325° it will take 30 minutes longer for the turkey to cook than if you cooked it at 350°. This is for a turkey without stuffing.
- 350° a 12-lb turkey takes 2 ½ -3 hours to cook in the oven
- 325° a 12-lb turkey takes 3-3 ½ hours to cook in the oven
12-Pound Turkey with Stuffing
If your 12-pound turkey is stuffed, in the pan, and ready for the preheated oven, time to set your timer. A stuffed turkey takes longer to cook than one that is unstuffed. If you are cooking the turkey at 325°, it will take 3 ½-4 hours to cook. At 350°, it will take 3-3 ½ hours.
Place the stuffed turkey covered in foil in the oven and set a timer for 2 hours. Remove the foil and reset the timer for 1 hour. Use an instant-read thermometer and start checking the thickest part of the thigh around the 3-hour mark. You want the turkey to reach an internal temperature of 175°.
Remember that at 325° it will take 30 minutes longer for the turkey to cook than if you cooked it at 350°. This is for a turkey with stuffing.
- 350° a 12-lb turkey takes 3-3 ½ hours to cook in an oven
- 325° a 12-lb turkey takes 3 ½ - 4 hours to cook in an oven
12-Pound Turkey in a Roasting Bag
If you like to cook your turkey in a bag, such as Reynold's bag, here is how long it will take for a 12-lb turkey. Cooking a turkey in an oven bag does speed up the cooking time. Since a turkey cooked in one of them cooks faster, I do not recommend stuffing a turkey when you cook in a bag.
When cooking a 12-pound turkey in an oven bag at 350°, it takes 2 - 2 ½ hours. I suggest starting to check the internal temperature of the turkey at the 1-hour mark. If the thickest part of the thigh is 175°, it is done.
12-Pound Turkey Feeds How Many People?
When estimating how many pounds of turkey per person, it is best to take into account those you are inviting. A combination of children, teens, and adults will feed more than a party with all adults that are big eaters.
On average, it is best to estimate 1 - 1 ½ pounds per person. For a family of adults and children that are average eaters, a 12-pound turkey will feed 10 people. If it is all adults or big eaters, estimate it to feed 8 people.
With several hearty sides and part of a large Thanksgiving meal, a 12-pound turkey will feed roughly 8-12. After all, everyone wants to save room for dessert, right!?!
What to Serve with Turkey
Here are some of my favorite sides to serve turkey for Thanksgiving, holidays, or any family meal. There are classics, low-carb, gluten-free, & family favorites. Or try something different like Homemade Sweet Potato Fries.
So whether you want vegetables, potatoes, or even dessert, complete your meal with one of these recipes that go well with turkey.
Storing Leftover Turkey
Leftover turkey stores well in the refrigerator. Place slices and turkey pieces in an air-tight container. Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. No need to remove the bones before storing but you can if you wish. Save those bones to make bone broth using poultry bones in a pressure cooker!
Turkey also freezes well and easily. Place the leftover Thanksgiving turkey in an air-tight container. Store it with or without the bones. I prefer removing the meat from the bones before freezing. It saves freezer space but it also helps it defrost faster and more evenly later.
To defrost the leftover frozen turkey, place your container in the refrigerator. Let it thaw for 1-3 days, depending on the amount. Enjoy cold in a sandwich or salad. I love it in a bowl of comforting Pot Pie Soup.
Or reheat leftover turkey in a toaster oven or oven at 350° for 5-20 minutes depending on how much you are warming up (and if it thin slices or the whole turkey leg - haha!)
Recipes for Leftover Turkey Slices
Besides yummy sandwiches, here are some great recipes and ideas for using up leftover turkey slices & other pieces. Trade out the protein or add the turkey to the existing recipes below and continue getting your turkey fix for days after Thanksgiving or Christmas. (The kale salad or the curry are my favorite ways to use up the turkey!)
- Pot Pie Soup
- Butternut Squash, Apple, and Kale Salad with Honey Dijon Vinaigrette
- Zucchini, Chickpea, and Potato Curry
- Toaster Oven Grilled Cheese Sandwich
What is the best temperature to cook a turkey?
You can cook a turkey at either temperature, 325° or 350°. I personally cook at 325° for a low and slow oven-roasted turkey that is juicy every year.
I do not recommend cooking it at a temperature higher than 375°. Do not be tempted to speed things up. It dries out the skin and outer meat too fast while the internal meat like the thigh could still be unsafe & undercooked.
How do I keep the turkey from drying out?
Here are my top tips for helping keep your turkey moist and juicy. Begin with a dry salt brine for several days before cooking. Also, just coat the skin with softened butter. Also, cover the turkey in foil for the first Â½ of cooking to keep the moisture from escaping.
Finally, make sure you let the turkey rest for at least a half hour before carving it. Even the breast will be moist after oven cooking. All of these ideas are the best way to keep a turkey from drying out.
How to check a turkey for doneness?
There are 3 places you may check your turkey for doneness and each has a different reading. Using an instant-read thermometer, you want the turkey breast to read 165° and the thickest part of a thigh to read 175°. If you have stuffing, check that as well for a temperature of 165° also.
IMPORTANT - the turkey will continue to "cook" as it rests. It will likely go up another 5° during that time and that IS OK! It is best to let the turkey rest for about 30 minutes before cutting into it & it will be perfectly moist and done. Tent it with foil and wait until later before you start carving it. If you carve it too soon, the juices will run out and dry out the meat.
If your bird has stuffing, the stuffing needs to be safe too. You do not want undercooked stuffing that may be harmful to consume. Make sure the stuffing is 165Â° so that any turkey juices that have dripped into it are also safe.
More Turkey Recipes by Weight
Whether you have a small 12-pound turkey, a medium-sized 18-pound, or a large 25-pound turkey, here is all you need to know. Check out the recipes to make the best turkey depending on the weight of your holiday bird.
- How to Roast a 15-Pound Turkey
- 18-Pound Turkey Cooking Guide
- 20-Pound Turkey Cooking Time, Temperature, & Tips
- How Long to Cook a 25-Pound Turkey
How Long to Cook a 12-Pound Turkey
- roasting pan
- instant-read thermometer
- 12-pound turkey
- ½ stick softened butter
- 1 lemon cut in quarters
- 4 whole garlic cloves
- 1 Tablespoon salt
- ½ Tablespoon black pepper
- ½ Tablespoon paprika
- 1 Teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 Teaspoon onion powder
- 1 Teaspoon ground sage
- Defrost your turkey for 3-5 days in the refrigerator.If you want it even juicier/moist start defrosting 6 days before and on day 3 start the Best Dry Brine - see above for how to.
- Preheat the oven to 325°.
- While preheating the oven, prepare the turkey. Place the turkey in a roasting pan on a rack. Remove any parts and giblets in the cavity. Place the lemon quarters. Add the garlic cloves, it is ok to have them still in the skins, inside the turkey cavity.
- Using your hands, coat the skin of the turkey with softened butter.
- Next, combine the spices in a small bowl. Sprinkle the turkey seasoning blend evenly over the butter.
- Place a large sheet of aluminum foil loosely over the turkey. Place it in the oven and cook for 2 hours. Baste only once during the first half of cooking, around the 1-hour mark.
- Remove the foil and continue to cook for another 1 hour. Continue basting every 30 minutes. Do not do it any more than that as the oven will lose heat.
- To check for doneness, place an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh. If it is 175° in the thickest part of the thigh, the turkey is ready.See above for how to check and where to check a turkey for doneness.
- Remove the turkey carefully from the oven. Let it rest while covered loosely with foil for 30-60 minutes. Remove the lemons and garlic from the cavity carefully and discard.
- Place the turkey on a carving board. Carve how your family will enjoy the turkey. Thick slices of breast meat, cut off the legs, and the wings, & dice up the thighs for example.
- Place carved turkey on a platter to serve. Serve with your favorite side dishes and Enjoy!
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